The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) published its guidance today for universities developing their access agreements. As you will recall from my monthly posting this is important in helping us to determine what provision we need to make to ensure good access for all groups to the university if we seek to set a tuition fee of over £6,000. Without properly understanding what these OFFA requirements are it has been very difficult to model the costs to the institution of our access programme.
Access can be broadly defined as the work we do to ensure that we recruit, support and retain students from as wide a background as possible. A number of principles will guide the agreements and will inform our submission. First, the greater the charge that universities set over the threshold figure of £6,000 the greater the expenditure they will be expected to make on ensuring good access and support for potential students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Second it is clear from the guidance that those universities with the most ‘distance to travel’ in terms of their proportion of under-represented student groups are likely to be required to spend more.
What does this mean for Bradford?
OFFA has clearly recognised in its guidelines that universities like ours have been very successful in attracting and supporting students from under-represented groups. We are rightly proud of the diversity of our students and of our success in supporting all our student groups. We exceed almost all of our benchmarks in this area and will be seeking to maintain that record into the future. We will therefore be looking carefully at the new guidelines and seeking to ensure we can balance the need to charge a tuition fee which allows us to maintain the investment we had planned to make prior to the cuts in public funding for teaching and research, against our commitment to ensure we remain a strong institution, with a proud record of attracting students from diverse social and ethnic categories.
The OFFA guidelines will help to ensure that we can do that and, I hope, will also help to ensure that all parts of the university system make an appropriate commitment to serving the needs of the diverse student body we have in the UK.’